June 2010 Archives


Vote 0 Votes

I can feel my blood pressure exploding and my pulse quickening when I see this stuff. It makes me soooooo mad. The legislatures and courts need to do something to protect everyday citizens from these frivolous lawsuits. It's really ridiculous!

Chicagoist: A woman is being sued after criticizing a concrete company on Angie's List. Helen Maslona was surprised to learn a local concrete company refused to do work at her house, five miles from their headquarters, because they claimed to cover her area in their company profile. So Helen posted this criticism on the site (which is allowed on Angie's List) and gave the company an "F." This, apparently, warrants a lawsuit asking for $10,000 in damages. Said Helen: "I'm just floored. I can't believe it. First of all, $10,000 -- for what?" And said Michael Fitzgerald, owner of the company, "I'm not trying to be a jerk. It's just hard to have somebody slander you."

Either the owner is in fact a jerk... or he missed an opportunity to tell the reporter that Ms. Maslona's review was factually wrong. If the facts of the case are as claimed above, the owner of the concrete company should have his feet held to the fire and made to pay not only Ms. Maslona's legal fees, but also some pain and suffering (and slander) damages. PEOPLE, WE HAVE A FIRST AMENDMENT!

It is not just that commercial interests can use their comparative economic power to suppress people's speech... and the courts and legislature should even out the incentives to make businesses think twice about intimidating people through the courts.

From the NYTimes article, discussing another similar suit:

[Legal experts] consider the lawsuit an example of the latest incarnation of a decades-old legal maneuver known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or Slapp.

The label has traditionally referred to meritless defamation suits filed by businesses or government officials against citizens who speak out against them. The plaintiffs are not necessarily expecting to succeed -- most do not -- but rather to intimidate critics who are inclined to back down when faced with the prospect of a long, expensive court battle.


The federal bill, in the House Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy, would enable a defendant who believes he is being sued for speaking out or petitioning on a public matter to seek to have the suit dismissed.

"Just as petition and free speech rights are so important that they require specific constitutional protections, they are also important enough to justify uniform national protections against Slapps," said Mark Goldowitz, director of the California Anti-Slapp Project, which helped draft the bill.

Under the proposed federal law, if a case is dismissed for being a Slapp, the plaintiff would have to pay the defendant's legal fees. Mr. Randazza would not disclose specifics on the legal fees he has charged his clients, but he said the cost of defending a single Slapp suit "could easily wipe out the average person's savings before the case is half done."
Emphasis added

And then a gem of a quote from a college student sued for an online comment regarding a towing service:

"There's no reason I should have to shut up because some guy doesn't want his dirty laundry out," Mr. Kurtz said. "It's the power of the Internet, man."

Yesterday evening

Vote 0 Votes

I have a few things to say about yesterday.

1. I hate being lied to, even if it was a lie of ignorance and laziness. (I called the Chicago Park District to see if I could bring Lily with me to a concert. The phone person said, "as long as she's on a leash.")

2. I like my friends. They are nice people. I would have liked to watch the concert with them.

3. Yesterday evening would have been quite pleasant if I hadn't already made plans. Instead, I had a frown that I could not turn upside down.

4. Sometimes when you're very frustrated/angry, you have to bring out the big guns.IMG00030.jpg

That's my congressman!

Vote 0 Votes

I've been critical of the honorable Danny K. Davis in the past... and I still won't vote for him, but: That's my congressman!

Meanwhile, Representative Danny K. Davis, Democrat of Illinois, is pushing for federal legislation that would make police torture a federal crime without a statute of limitations.

From NYTimes - Verdict in Burge Trial will not bring Issue to a Close by Katie Fretland and Don Terry

For some of the best coverage of the Burge trial, please see John Conroy's blog, with a hat-tip to the Beachwood Reporter and Steve Rhodes who keeps linking to it.

Aside: Links to some of the best local Chicago journos/bloggers
The Reader - if it's written by Ben Joravsky, you should read it.
Beachwood Reporter - a great daily commentary on the news that's important in Chi-town
Chicago Current - city and county news - exposing the nitty gritty. I particulary liked Alex Parker's county line blog before they reorganized the site...
Lee Bey's blog - general awesomeness and architectural commentary
Chicagoist - Chicago for the masses
Second City Cop - I hesitate to put this on here. SCC is wrong just as often as he's right, but it's a valuable, if not partisan (party = police = good) perspective.

In Church this morning:

Introductory Pulpit commentary: We find our lives dependent upon the destructive forces that have been made visible in the BP oil spill, but which have been a sinful and deadly presence in creation for many decades now. We acknowledge that our current lifestyle of convenience and hyper-mobility, which is based on oil and oil-based products is at the root of the problem and that the irresponsibility and hubris of companies such as BP are only outgrowths of this deeper reality. As the prophets of old said, we hear the land witnessing and testifying against us.

In Bulletin: (emphasis mine)

A call to Lament and Reconciliation
Report from the Duke Divinity Center for Reconciliation Summer Institute

Unison Confession

Merciful God,

As followers of Jesus Chris, creator and redeemer of all creation, we mourn the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and the BP oil spill now polluting the Gulf of Mexico.

We mourn the human and animal lives lost, the econimies and ecosystems destroyed, and the gifts of God, created from and for his love, squandered and poisoned.

Most of all we mourn our complicity and active participation in an economy based on toxic energy that has made such death inevitable.

We now make a public confession of the sins against God's creation that we have committed and have been committed on our behalf.

We pray for your grace to change our lives.

And we invite all of our Christian sisters and brothers to join us in this acknowledgment of our sin and culpability, and in working toward a true repentance.



Questions for discussion:
• Is our economy based on energy?
• Is our energy necessarily toxic?
• Does the use of oil in our economy make death inevitable?
• If the answer to the above questions are affirmative, is there a safe, sinless way of providing energy for our economy?
• If there is not, should the church embrace the Amish mentality and avoid electricity?

I'm curious to hear other people's thoughts. I obviously am not fully comfortable with the confession and decided not to join in the confession until I had some time to process the implications of the statement.


Vote 0 Votes

What leads to action? Incentives. The world is full of stories about improperly incentivized folks making otherwise illogical decisions in order to get whatever it is they want.

For several months years now, I've had a new cynical worldview boiling in my head related to the tradeoffs and relationships between economic growth, income disparity, political power, business regulation, education, media, profit, and shifting/rejecting/avoiding societal costs. I've tried writing a half-dozen blog posts, and they're all four or five paragraphs long before I just sort of stop. The idea is too big and complex to communicate simply... and if you can't communicate ideas simply, it's very difficult to actually communicate them (your audience will generally just disengage). Yet, if you choose to communicate simply, your ideas are easily picked apart by those who understand at least some aspect of the complexity of the situation.

But today, spurred on by the first 75 pages of "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis, and an interesting rant that Myles alerted me to, I've got another angle to approach my idea from: Incentives. And the bonus is, I think this angle helps to fill in some gaps that are hard to bridge.

As my thesis, I'll select the following statement:

The mainstream United States power structure is improperly incentivized. Futhermore, as reformers gain the power that would allow them to reform the system of incentives, the allure of those incentives becomes so great, even the most ardent reformer is distracted from their goals, compromised, and eventually puts self interest above societal interest, thus ending the push for reform.

I'm sure I'll refine this statement later on. I already know it's too broad, too ambitious, and too unnuanced, but it's a beginning. It's something I can print, and something I can try and build off.

Major topics:
• There is a trade-off between Economic growth and income disparity/wealth distribution. The less income and less wealth you have, the more economic growth you are prepared to sacrifice. • With few exceptions, the only way to amass large amounts of wealth is through redistributive means, rather than productive capacity. This incentivizes and rewards those who become experts at capital allocation, rather than those who are the most productive. This is ultimately detrimental to society.
• Capital redistribution aids economic growth, but causes income disparity.
• The democracy of the vote is one of the last refuges of the masses and underclasses.
• The masses and underclasses primarily see and use government to impose their will to reverse (or flatten) the distribution of wealth and income.
• Large corporations and wealthy individuals seek to use their resources to influence government in ways that are advantageous to themselves.
• Government officials use their power predominantly for self-interest (power, wealth, fame, influence, etc.) rather than social interest.
• The media dictates much of the national agenda, it is the chief regulator of government officials.
• The media is by-and-large owned by large corporations. These large corporations often use their media holdings to self-interested purposes.

There's some more, but I've got to cut this short. More to follow, hopefully.